Killer bees likely involved in recent Southern California swarm attacks

79939 full
79939 full

Three people were attacked in recent days by two swarms of bees and were sent to area hospitals. At least one of the attacks has been attributed to Africanized honeybees, commonly referred to as killer bees. But the other also shares similar characteristics.

Africanized honeybees are difficult to distinguish from their European counterparts, requiring genetic testing for an accurate identification. The bees involved in the attacks most likely will not undergo testing. Still, experts said it’s likely they were Africanized bees.

The first incident, which occurred in Palm Desert on Thursday, involved a 71-year-old woman who was stung about 1,000 times. Lance Davis, who owns the bee-removal service Killer Bee Inc., removed the hive after the attack and estimated that 75,000 bees were involved in the attack. He said personal observations led him to believe that the bees were Africanized.

“These are killer bees. That’s what they do. That’s how they react. It’s obvious. [It’s] like you get a Chihuahua or a pit bull, they attack, and that’s a very different outcome,” Davis said.

In the second, which occurred on Sunday in La Cañada, two women were stung by bees after a car collided into a tree that housed a bee hive. One victim, a 17-year-old girl fell to the ground and was saved by a rescue worker who sprayed her with a fire extinguisher. The other victim, a 51-year-old woman, jumped into a swimming pool.

The bees in that attack have not been identified as Africanized honeybees, but an expert on honeybees said that the majority of wild honeybees in the area are Africanized.

“Around the L.A. County area, I would imagine that if you just see a wild bee or a bee that you encounter on a flower or something like that, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that it’s Africanized,” said James Nieh, a biology professor who studies bees at the University of California San Diego.

Africanized honeybees are commonplace in Southern California. Officials deemed Los Angeles County to be “completely colonized” by them in 1999.

Nieh said that several factors have led to their prevalence: the species is generally feral and therefore more hardy due to natural selection; they are more resistant to parasites; and their hives require less space than their European counterparts.

Dos and Don’ts

Nieh said that the end of winter means Africanized honeybees are getting ready to expand their nests and are therefore more aggressive. He said that attacks will be more likely through the summer until their  next dormant period.

  • Run from the area - “Although you might get stung in the process of running, the bees, in their large swarm, generally don’t follow you as fast as the average person can run, especially when they’re highly motivated to escape,” Nieh said.
  • Avoid sheltering in enclosed spaces such as a shed
  • Do not jump into water to avoid the bees – “That’s usually a fatal thing, because the bees can follow you if you’re splashing around in the water. And then if you try to grab a breath, you sometimes get bees that fly down into your mouth and into your lungs and sting you internally,” he said.
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